Jeremy Langford’s left foot was in a walking boot Saturday. It didn’t get there on its own. A large football player likely stepped on it, and a doctor or trainer put the affected foot in the protective covering.
Langford was out of the boot on Sunday, and the very secretive Bears don’t seem to be worried about their running back’s situation, though this regime probably would have feigned nonchalance at the Hindenburg disaster.
You can understand why the team would be intensely interested in any limb of Langford’s that doesn’t feel right, and you can understand why the team would slap a protective shield on his nose if he sneezed. The Bears really, really need him to be good this season. Not serviceable but good.
There’s a lot riding on this for the team and for general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox, the men who decided veteran Matt Forte wasn’t worth bringing back. A good Langford means a better Jay Cutler, and a good Langford means Fox and Pace won’t have to face questions of the what-could-you-possibly-have-been-thinking variety.
The second-year back from Michigan State was impressive in the Bears’ second preseason game, and you know what that means. Even though everybody says exhibition games have no redeeming value, whenever a Bear does something good, suddenly those meaningless games speak of a glorious future that include a Pro Bowl for said player, if not a Super Bowl for the team. That’s just how people roll in these parts. It’s a preseason joyride.
Langford looked both controlled and instinctive against the Patriots, rushing for 55 yards and a touchdown in less than a half of work. He looks the part, as football coaches like to say. Fox has said the Bears want to run the football down opponents’ throats, and Langford seems to have the power to do it. You’ll recall that former coach Lovie Smith liked to say that the Bears “get off the bus running,’’ but it was a different kind of running with Forte, a slashing, almost patient style.
Fox doesn’t want subtlety from his backs. No matter how good Forte was at catching the ball (and how suspect Langford might be in that department), the head coach wants defenders to feel in their bones that they have collided with a dry cleaning truck, not a laundry basket. It’s why Forte is now a Jet.
Forte was excellent – could very well still be excellent – hence the risk involved here for the Bears. The offense operated fairly well last season, with the running game ranking 11th in yards. That, in turn, helped Cutler have his best season as a Bear.
So, with defense being the bigger issue by far in the offseason, wouldn’t it have made sense for the Bears to leave well enough alone on offense? We’re about to get an answer. They are rebuilding on the fly, though, unlike the Cubs’ approach during their down years, they’re trying to win while getting younger.
The idea is a Super Bowl title, and clearly Pace and Fox didn’t see Forte as the person to be running the ball if and when the Bears get there. You can bet he’ll be trying to prove them wrong all season. And you can bet they’ll have their fingers crossed that Langford stays healthy, performs well and makes everyone say, “Remind me again: Was it pronounced Forty or Fortay?’’ If that doesn’t happen, it will be a long season for everyone involved.
Give Pace and Fox credit. They have a vision. They want to pound the football. A lot of people say that exact thing, including Smith, but the Bears’ decision-makers are actually following through. They saw a 30-year-old running back working in an industry that isn’t kind to running backs over 25. They saw a running back who doesn’t fit their idea of a running back. They’re rolling the dice with Langford, but if he doesn’t work out, they’ll again try to find their kind of running back. They want to win their way.
Langford got all the snaps with the first-team offense against the Patriots, a clear sign that it’s his job to lose. The Bears liked some of the things they saw from him last season, when he rushed for 537 yards and caught 22 passes behind Forte.
But this is real now, real enough that the Bears are protecting their starting running back from anything that might remotely hinder him come the regular season. They need him to be strong and durable. And if it’s not asking too much, as good or better than Forte.